Nobody can deny that Stillwater has a plethora of talent to be found amongst its residents. From the arts to innovation our community is truly blessed. We have always known that Stillwater counted amongst its citizenry many published authors, so we decided to highlight them in a monthly Q & A feature. This month, we are beginning with one of Stillwater’s newest published authors, someone we think many of our readers will know from her past work with the Oklahoma WONDERtorium, and First United Methodist Early Childhood Education program. Stillwater resident, Debbie Williams, has just released her debut novel, The Neighborhood.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your ties to Stillwater.
A: I’ve called Stillwater home for over thirty years. We moved here when my son was two years old and I was seven months pregnant so my husband could join OSU’s School of Architecture faculty. Our third child was born five years later. Stillwater is definitely home for us! Professionally, I worked at First United Methodist Church Early Childhood Center for twenty-one years. First as a teacher then as the center’s director. It was a wonderful way to connect with many families in our community. The last ten years of my career I served as the program coordinator of the Oklahoma WONDERtorium. Again, I was blessed to work with many passionate and caring people.
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
A: I’m not sure if I would call myself a writer. I think of myself more as a storyteller. My entire life I’ve observed situations and woven them into different scenarios. Even in my dreams! I’ll wake up, critique what happened, and then try to go back to sleep to “rewrite” the story.
Q: Where did the idea for The Neighborhood come from?
A: The seed for The Neighborhood was planted twenty-five years ago. While my sister was on vacation painters came into her home and repainted her dining and living rooms. When confronted they produced a key as proof they were in the right house. As it turned out, all of the homes in that block had been built in the 1920s by the same builder. It was not uncommon at that point to key houses with the same lock. The painters were actually supposed to be at the house next door!
This incident got me thinking. Every neighborhood has that go-to person who has a key to their house. What if there were a string of burglaries that led back to a little old lady who had keys to everyone’s house. Although that scenario gets a nod in my book, it’s not the story I wrote. What did translate into my novel is the idea of a close-knit neighborhood where everyone trusts each other.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in writing?
A: Developing the confidence to begin and then the discipline to finish! Although it was a story I wanted to tell, my own insecurities got in the way. I jokingly told my family and a few friends I was going to write a book, but I don’t think I really ever thought I would. After I retired, I really needed something to give me focus and a way to channel some of my creative energy. About that time my husband began participating in Plein Air Painting competitions. As we traveled around the country, I began using this time to develop characters, plot lines, and ultimately began writing.
Q: What is your process in developing characters and storylines?
A: My book takes place in a fictitious town in Oklahoma with all of the characters living in a neighborhood. In order to have visuals, I created storyboards laying out the neighborhood, town, and university. Then for each character, I found an image I could use to build that person’s description and backstory.
I also researched FBI training, surveillance equipment, bio-terrorism, and Russian sleeper cells. Most of the research for this was done on a remote ranch in Texas. When an unmarked helicopter hovered over the house we were staying in, my husband and I joked we were probably on the FBI’s watch list. Who knows???
Q: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
A: I’ve heard authors say they discovered things about their characters they didn’t know which I always thought was silly. After all, you are the creator of the story. But it was true! I’d be writing a chapter and realize there was something emerging about a character’s past that was important to include. Or perhaps there was a twist I didn’t see coming.
Q: What do you think makes a good story?
A: For me, relatable characters and relationships make for the best stories. They certainly don’t need to be perfect, but by the end of the book, I want to like the protagonist, warts and all. I also enjoy dialogue over description.
I love when I find little nuggets in a story that make me think about things a little differently. It’s been fun for me to get feedback from my readers about the nuggets they’ve found in my novel.
Q: What do you enjoy reading?
A: I enjoy mysteries. Until I wrote my novel, I didn’t know there was an entire genre known as Cozy Mysteries which is where I would classify The Neighborhood.
I appreciate books that have strong characters that develop and grow throughout the story. I’ve really enjoyed Liane Moriarty’s books. I recently read The Gown by Jennifer Robson which did a wonderful job of marrying compelling characters and history. Another book that does this was The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. I love books that entertain me AND that I feel a little smarter for having read it.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: One of the downsides of writing, at least for me, is that I can’t be reading someone else’s novel at the same time. I find those characters begin to float into my story. I’m currently researching and developing characters for the sequel to The Neighborhood, so my reading has been related to that. Since my next novel is going to involve an art heist, my most recent reads include The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro and Priceless by Robert Wittman.
The Neighborhood is available for purchase through Amazon.com by searching: The Neighborhood by Debbie Williams or contact Ms. Williams directly to purchase a signed copy at firstname.lastname@example.org.